nthposition online magazine

Grist, You are never just out, walking a field & Platform


[ poetry - november 06 ]


What is a mill? Six stark
floors, the smell of grain here still
and the stones in solid pairs
will not be parted, though someone
has tabbed names along their sides.
When did they last move?
Four couples, petrified; the way
they load against each other, life on life.

Beetling done, hammered out the strands,
the thread and its finish gone;
something else to keep the mill race
run; think of diameter,
a larger wheel, a greater breadth
of bucket, what it might mean
to spin beyond that range
hummed in the finetune of machine.

Tuck down, prepare to winnow out,
one pair of thickening frize
apiece and no new gadgets, just an
arm rest on which to show your metal.
Know there's always someone to pick
up the yarn, though they're getting younger,
ghosts that undershot the past
coming to breast into the future.

Stood in the kilnsman's house, the kiln
in sight, charred with a charmed heat.
Hear the wheel clap, the cry of Up
or I'll send a bleacher to Tullylish.
Every hand scutch and I can feel inside
the point of those knitting needles
as she, employed there for that purpose,
ekes dirt from in between the tiles.


You are never just out, walking a field

If there's land for sale in the barony of Mourne,
you'll have the world and his mother up to take a look.
One will be after a stray sheep say, or a rogue dog
or they might be checking an ancient right of way.
Whatever excuse, they'll be there alone at dusk,
footing its width, counting the thistles with a stick.
They know how soil cools time down, how it holds
sweat and groan, worry for weather and the long wait.

What moan sounds to a keen ear from the seven
acre field? Seven soggy acres given to marry her,
dowried for five years until it was time to hand it back
though it still held the seed of last season, their first
good yield and the timid beginnings of their marriage.
Come then,  you who have ears to hear him sob
as he beat her so her brothers would fear she'd be found
by the railway acre. Or you, who can tap the dull click
in her throat as she retches back to will him on
for only a broken sister would convince her kin.



'My mother's yard was the cleanest one in Templeboy,'
the station master said as we waited for the ten eleven.
'In her haggart you could see the snips of granite glisten
like the promise of confetti shining up as you went by.
No rat ever darkened the door of her feed shed either
and as for the cattle, if they were in, she was after them
with a mop. She'd have yard trained them if we'd let her.

There was one dip where a puddle settled, a filthy mirror.
She drove herself mad over how to be rid of that water.
How could she brush it away without making a muck?
She would nearly have sucked it up with the hoover
when she thought of the dog. The dog that needed
to drink or else be starved. So after rain, she brought
that mutt to water, finished off the job with lemon cleaner.'

Now, you may think there was only him and me involved
in our encounter before the train arrived. But I could swear
I heard the muttering of another streel behind him as he ran
to wave his flag and that surely was the sound of something
parched that carped the distance just as I embarked.